Iran Envoy Drops Appeal to Jail in Belgium, No Prisoner Swap Seen

ANTWERP, Belgium (Reuters) —
Belgian lawyer Dimitri de Beco, representing Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi who was charged in Belgium with planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France, speaks to the media outside a court building in Antwerp, Belgium, Wednesday. (Reuters/Clement Rossignol)

An Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison for planning a bomb attack in France has dropped an appeal in Belgium and will serve his sentence, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Belgian authorities have said they will oppose any potential swap deal with Western prisoners, prosecution lawyers said.

Assadolah Assadi was found guilty of attempted terrorism in February after a foiled plot to bomb a 2018 rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a French-based dissident group opposed to the leadership in Tehran.

It was the first time an Iranian official was tried for suspected terrorism in Europe since Iran‘s 1979 revolution.

Assadi decided not to appeal, his lawyer Dimitri de Beco told reporters in Antwerp, the Belgian city where he was sentenced on Feb. 4.

“This has been a political trial since the beginning and he does not want to participate any longer,” he said, adding that Assadi had diplomatic immunity as the third counselor at Iran‘s embassy in Vienna.

However, judges had ruled that diplomatic immunity did not protect him from charges that he used his post as cover to carry out state-sponsored terrorism. In its ruling, the Belgium court said Assadi was running an Iranian state intelligence network on orders from Tehran.

Assadi brought explosives for the Paris plot with him on a commercial flight to Austria from Iran, the court ruled.

Iran‘s mission to the EU in Brussels said in a statement that Belgium had broken international law, reiterating its earlier rejection of the February sentencing. It said it reserved the right to resort to all legal mechanisms.

Assadi did not attend his court hearings or sentencing, which was held behind closed doors in high security.

He was arrested in Germany before being transferred to Belgium for trial.

Belgium agreed to hold the sensitive trial even though the bomb plot was in France because two of the co-plotters were Belgian-Iranian nationals and were arrested in Belgium. A third was arrested in France.

All three were given long sentences and can still appeal.

Prosecution lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier said there were guarantees from the Belgian state that there would be no swap of Assadi for Western prisoners in Iran, citing a separation of powers between judicial and political decisions.

“The Belgian government will not discuss [a prisoner swap],” he said, citing a written guarantee.

European Union governments have said they cannot turn a blind eye to terrorism, including two killings in the Netherlands and a failed assassination attempt in Denmark, which they blamed on Iran.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly dismissed all terrorism charges, calling the Paris attack allegations a “false flag” stunt by the NCRI, which it considers a terrorist group.

NCRI chief Maryam Rajavi, who gave testimony during the trial, called on the EU to sanction Iranian intelligence officials and elite commanders.

But few EU governments other than France have commented publicly on the sentencing in February. The bloc chairs indirect talks between the United States and Iran to rejuvenate a 2015 accord aimed at containing Tehran’s nuclear program.

While the EU last month imposed more human rights sanctions on Iranian individuals, Brussels has also sought closer diplomatic and business ties with Tehran.

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